A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Monday, January 02, 2006
DEMOCIDE, OR WHY A NEW NAME FOR SOMETHING OLD DOESN'T SMELL THAT SWEET: Just finished reading a reasonably repulsive post from Solomon, via Jesus' General , applying a bit of ethical ju-jitsu, from Democratic Peace, on a concept of democide, to whit: a policy of genocide carried out by a governmental authority. Dr. Rummel, the inventor of this concept, ends his post at Democratic Peace as follows:

"As to the ethics of this, I've been a deontologist, and much influenced by Immanuel Kant. Now, with this idea of a Just Democide, I've collapsed into situational ethics. So be it. That's the world we live in."

What interests me is the way he gets here. He argues for the possibility of a Just Democide Doctrine: "If the lives to be assuredly saved by a democide far exceed in number the lives to be murdered, than the murdering is justified, although evil." Dr. Rummel comes to this conclusion after analyzing the marginal cost-benefit trade-off of dropping the bombs on Japan in 1945.

This is strictly a utiliarian ethical approach. Can I take a deontological position in all of this? There is a serious assumption that Dr. Rummel has in play to get to this conclusion. He assumes that the there were only ever two choices or strategies--dropping the bomb on Japanese military/civilian targets, or not dropping the bomb. However, just as there are discrete strategies in a game theoretic space, so there are mixed strategies in the same game theoretic space, made up of combinations of probabilities of dropping and not dropping the bomb. What can this possibly mean? One alternative to the dropping of the bomb on a city by surprise, is to drop a bomb on a pre-designated target area, away from population centres, in Japan, that can be viewed by the Japanese. There are objections to this, I know, but I do not think they are insurmountable. If the bomb is dropped, follow up propaganda makes clear that you will drop a second, in another area, to show you mean business. Drop the second bomb, in another area (also unpopulated or evacuated), and advise them that non-surrender will result in dropping further bombs on military targets. After that, if the Japanese don't surrender, an argument could be made that one is no longer dealing with rational beings, and thus the deontological issue becomes moot. My guess is that the Japanese take the hint, and surrender.

Now, even if a reader doesn't like this option, we haven't really actually explored the other one--blockade and slow strangulation that entails for the Japanese war machine. Nothing has happened to cause the Japanese to collapse or kill one's own POWs. The problem with this is that it will take time, is of uncertain outcome, and probably allows that the Russians would probably have the north islands, unless the allies took them first instead of the more heavily defended main islands. As for the possibility that the Russians would have invaded the main islands, the question has to be raised as to the Russian capability to carry out sea-borne invasions and their lack of experience in so doing.

And what if the Russians had taken the north islands of Japan? Would such an outcome justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians to spare the world that outcome? I don't think it does. The fate of communism was to fall, and I doubt that having the northern islands would have affected that outcome at all. I grant that allied planners could not be sure of an outcome that was fifty years down the road. But even still, this does not excuse them for doing the unethical thing (though it may mitigate it, perhaps).

What we end up with is a concept, democide, and a willingness to support it in situations where there may be other options than the ones discussed by the author. None of the outcomes look great, but is geopolitical dominance an acceptable reason to kill civilians? I don't think Kant would agree...

Now, back to Solomon.
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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

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Blogs I Read


Mike Spenis

Megan McArdle

Juan Cole

Joshua Micah Marshall



Emperor Misha I

Andrew Sullivan

Bob Somersby

John Quiggin

John Rogers


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